SO USA TODAY DIDN’T WANT TO RUN MY HUNTER BIDEN COLUMN THIS WEEK. My regular editor is on vacation, and I guess everyone else was afraid to touch it. So I’m sending them another column next week, and just publishing this one here. Enjoy! This is as filed, with no editing from USAT.
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In my 2019 book, The Social Media Upheaval, I warned that the Big Tech companies — especially social media giants like Facebook and Twitter — had grown into powerful monopolists, who were using their power over the national conversation to not only sell ads, but also to promote a political agenda.
That was pretty obvious last year, but it was even more obvious last week, when Facebook and Twitter tried to black out the New York Post’s blockbuster report about emails found on a laptop abandoned by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
The emails, some of which have been confirmed as genuine with their recipients, show substantial evidence that Hunter Biden used his position as Vice President Joe Biden’s son to extract substantial payments from “clients” in other countries. There are also photos of Hunter with a crack pipe, and engaging in various other unsavory activities. And they demolished the elder Biden’s claim that he never discussed business with his son.
That’s a big election-year news story. Some people doubted its genuineness, and of course it’s always fair to question a big election-year news story, especially one that comes out shortly before the election. (Remember CBS newsman Dan Rather’s promotion of what turned out to be forged memos about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service?)
But the way you debate whether a story is accurate or not is by debating. (In the case of the Rather memos, it turned out the font was from Microsoft Word, which of course didn’t exist back during the Vietnam War era.) Big Tech could have tried an approach that fostered such a debate. But instead of debate, they went for a blackout: Both services actually blocked links to the New York Post story. That’s right: They blocked readers from discussing a major news story by a major paper, one so old that it was founded by none other than Alexander Hamilton.
I wasn’t advising them — they tend not to ask me for my opinion — but I would have advised against such a blackout. There’s a longstanding Internet term called “the Streisand effect,” going back to when Barbara Streisand demanded that people stop sharing pictures of her beach house. Unsurprisingly, the result was a massive increase in the number of people posting pictures of her beach house. The Big Tech Blackout produced the same result: Now even people who didn’t care so much about Hunter Biden’s racket nonetheless became angry, and started talking about the story.
As lefty journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, Twitter and Facebook crossed a line far more dangerous than what they censored. Greenwald writes:
“Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was ‘reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform’: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: ‘I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.’”
“Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.”
“Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an ‘error.’ Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be ‘potentially harmful.’ Even more astonishing still, Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning.”
This went badly. The heads Facebook and of Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are now facing Senate subpoenas, the RNC has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, arguing that Twitter’s action in blacking out a damaging story constituted an illegal in-kind donation to the Biden Campaign, and most significantly, everyone is talking about the story now, with many understandably assuming that if the story were false, it would have been debunked rather than blacked out.
CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted: ”Congrats to Twitter on its Streisand Effect award!!!” Big Tech shot itself in the foot, and it didn’t stop the signal.
Regardless of who wins in November, it’s likely that there will be substantial efforts to rein in Big Tech. As Greenwald writes, “State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats.
“Would anyone encounter difficulty understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.”
“To begin with, Twitter and particularly Facebook are no ordinary companies. Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform but also other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful.”
He’s right. And while this heavyhanded censorship effort failed, there’s no reason to assume that other such efforts won’t work in the future. Not many stories are as hard to squash as a major newspaper’s front page expose during an presidential election.
As I wrote in The Social Media Upheaval, the best solution is probably to apply antitrust law to break up these monopolies: Competing companies would police each other, and if they colluded could be prosecuted under antitrust law. There are also moves to strip them of their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects them from being sued for things posted or linked on their sites on the theory that they are platforms, not publishers who make publication decisions. And Justice Clarence Thomas has recently called for the Supreme Court to revisit the lower courts’ interpretation of Section 230, which he argues has been overbroad. A decade ago there would have been much more resistance to such proposals, but Big Tech has tarnished its own image since then.
Had Facebook and Twitter approached this story neutrally, as they would have a decade ago, it would probably already be old news to a degree — as Greenwald notes, Hunter’s pay-for-play efforts were already well known, if not in such detail — but instead the story is still hot.
More importantly, their heavy handed action has brought home just how much power they wield, and how crudely they’re willing to wield it. They shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences.
“How Did Democrats Wind Up Believing Such Crap?” – Bill Maher Blasts Liberal Media’s COVID ‘Panic Porn’
"How Did Democrats Wind Up Believing Such Crap?" – Bill Maher Blasts Liberal Media’s COVID ‘Panic Porn’
Comedian Bill Maher used his HBO show once again to highlight some awkward ‘facts’ and ask some uncomfortable questions about media and…
Comedian Bill Maher used his HBO show once again to highlight some awkward 'facts' and ask some uncomfortable questions about media and politicians approach to COVID.
He rightly decries the politicization of medicine and the manner in which the media has been a handmaiden of panic throughout. Let us hope that his monologue, transcript below, is a foreshadowing of what will soon emerge as the conventional wisdom.
Full monologue transcript
(via AIER) (emphasis ours)
"And finally new rule, don’t spin me when it comes to my health. Over the past year, the COVID pandemic has prompted the medical establishment, the media, and the government to take a scared straight approach to getting the public to comply with their recommendations. Well, I’m from a different school. Give it to me straight doc, because in the long run that always works better than you can’t handle the truth.
Now I get it, doctors tell people lies because they don’t trust you to finish the antibiotics…. And media, well, I think we all know if it bleeds, it leads. The more they can get you to stay inside and watch their panic porn the higher the ratings. Researchers at Dartmouth built a database recently monitoring the COVID coverage of the major news outlets across the world and found that while other countries mix the good news in with the bad, the U.S. national media reported almost 90% bad news. Even as things were getting better, the reporting remained negative. And politicians, they lie because it’s their nature to cover their ass. They don’t get blamed if things goes badly and also to keep in practice.
But when all of our sources for medical information have an agenda to spin us, yeah, you wind up with a badly misinformed population including on the left. Liberals often mock the Republican misinformation bubble, which of course is very real. Ask anyone who works at Hillary’s pizza parlor. And we do know conservatives have some loopy ideas about COVID like the third of Republicans who believe it couldn’t be spread by someone showing no symptoms. But what about liberals? You know the high information by the science people. In a recent Gallup survey,
Democrats did much worse than Republicans in getting the right answer to the fundamental question: what are the chances that someone who gets COVID will need to be hospitalized?
The answer is between one and 5%.
41% of Democrats thought it was over 50%, another 28% put the chances at 20 to 49.
So almost 70% of Democrats are wildly off on this key question and also have a greatly exaggerated view of the danger of COVID too and the mortality rate among children. All of which explains why today, the states with the highest share of schools that are still closed are all blue states. So if the right wing media bubble has to own things like climate change denial, shouldn’t liberal media have to answer for how did your audience wind up believing such a bunch of crap about COVID.
A new report in the Atlantic says the media won’t stop putting pictures of the beach on stories about COVID even though it’s looking increasingly like the beach is the best place to avoid it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and vitamin D is the key to a robust immune system. Texas lifted its COVID restrictions recently and their infection rates went down in part because of people getting outside to let the sun and wind do their thing.
But to many liberals that can’t be right because Texas and beach loving Florida have Republican governors, but life is complicated.
I’ve read that the governor of Florida reads. I know we like to think of Florida as only middle school teachers on bath salts having sex with their students in front of an alligator but apparently the governor is also a voracious consumer of the scientific literature. And maybe that’s why he protected his most vulnerable population the elderly way better than did the governor of New York.
Those are just facts. I know it’s irresponsible of me to say them. Look, here’s what I’m saying, I don’t want politics mixed in with my medical decisions. And now that everything is politics… That’s all we do. If their side says COVID is nothing, our side has to say it’s everything. Trump said it would go away like a miracle. And we said it was World War Z. Trump said we should ingest household disinfectants and we laughed as we should of course. And then it turned out 19% of America was literally drenching the fruit in Clorox. And now of course, we find out that all that paranoia about surfaces was bullshit anyway even though we spent hours and hours wiping our knobs with Lysol. And if you’ve ever wiped your knob with Lysol, I think you know.
Now go home and wash the mail. If you lie to people, even for a very good cause you lose their trust. I think a lot of people… Thank you. I think a lot of people died because of Trump’s incompetence. And I think a lot of people died because talking about obesity had become a third rail in America. I know you’ve heard me pound this fried drumstick before, but since I last mentioned it, a stunning statistic was reported. 78% of those hospitalized, ventilated, or dead from COVID have been overweight. It is the key piece of the puzzle by far the most pertinent factor, but you dare not speak its name. Imagine how many lives could have been saved. If there had been some national campaign [inaudible 00:06:49] Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Program with the urgency of the pandemic behind it.
If the media and the doctors had made a point to keep saying, but there’s something you can do. But we’ll never know because they never did because the last thing you want to do is say something insensitive. We would literally rather die. Instead, we were told to lock down. Unfortunately the killer was already in the house and her name is Little Debbie."
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Maher's outburst is yet another example of something odd that has been happening recently. Viewpoints that would have got any non-leftist immediately banned from any and all social media outlets and canceled by the outrage mob are now being discussed, publicly, by leftists.
Example 1 - Slate.com questions the efficacy of mask-wearing!
I would like to calmly suggest that now is the time we should consider no longer wearing masks when we walk around outside.
I am not suggesting this simply because I am very sick of wearing a mask at all times outside my home. When it comes to coronavirus spread, evidence shows that being outdoors is very, very safe.
...a rough sense of how unlikely outdoor transmission is in the scenario where you’re walking unmasked on the sidewalk and briefly pass someone.
“You’re talking about a probability of getting hit by a car, and being struck by lightning.”
...masks shouldn’t go on being a blunt-force declaration of safety; we should embrace their nuanced use, starting with the idea that they might be overkill in some settings outdoors. This is especially true for people who have been fully vaccinated, and for whom wearing a mask in an already very-low risk setting is more of a show of participation in pandemic society than a medical necessity.
This was Slate a month ago...
Example 2 - The Atlantic dares to question the safety of COVID vaccines
...it’s also crucial to determine the biological cause of any vaccine-related blood conditions. This global immunization project presents a lot of firsts: the first authorized use of mRNA vaccines like the ones from Pfizer and Moderna; the first worldwide use of adenovirus vectors for vaccines like AstraZeneca’s, Johnson & Johnson’s, and Sputnik V; and the first attempt to immunize against a coronavirus. Which, if any, of these new frontiers might be linked to serious side effects? Which, if any, of the other vaccines could be drawn into this story, too? How can a tiny but disturbing risk be mitigated as we fight our way out of this pandemic? And what might be the implications for vaccine design in the years to come?
Why are they suddenly raising these questions? Are liberals starting to doubt the 'science' they've been told? Maybe the Neanderthals were on to something?
Well it's been over a week since I checked on the Neanderthal and science states and sure enough, the rate of new cases in the science states is still 340% higher— IM (@ianmSC) April 15, 2021
The best part is that literally no one in media cares that the President, Fauci & the CDC were so unbelievably wrong pic.twitter.com/Yv9gfzT3Ya
To Leftist Lawyers, Everything Trump Touches Turns Instantly To Criminal Gold
To Leftist Lawyers, Everything Trump Touches Turns Instantly To Criminal Gold
Authored by Jonathan Turley,
For many legal analysts, President Donald Trump remains a type of criminal Midas figure: everything he says or does turns instantly…
For many legal analysts, President Donald Trump remains a type of criminal Midas figure: everything he says or does turns instantly into a crime.
Over the last few years, the media has published a long line of unfounded criminal theories by experts claiming that a tweet or a meeting or a statement established a clear prosecutable case. It is a popular and profitable take with the media which has been feeding an insatiable appetite for such reassuring views.
Law has become a recreation and legal analysts have become part of the legal entertainment.
This pattern is continuing to the very end of the Trump Administration.
Within minutes of the leaking of a call between Trump and Georgia election officials, the same experts were declaring yet another clear crime. The loudest was Andrew Weissmann whose desire to find a crime to use against Trump appears to move from an obsession to a delusion. There may be evidence that supports a criminal allegation related to this call but the transcript does not come close to a prosecutable case.
Since his departure as the top deputy to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Andrew Weissmann (now a MSNBC analyst and a NYU law professor) seems intent on proving his critics correct about his profound bias against President Donald Trump and his reckless approach to prosecutorial standards. He recently called for prosecutors to use grand juries to pursue Trump and others in an unrelenting campaign based on unfounded legal theories. His recent book has been denounced by other prosecutors as unprofessional and inappropriate. Weissmann previously called on prosecutors to refuse to assist John Durham in his investigation and, after the pardon of Roger Stone, called for Stone in a grand jury. Now, he is insisting that the call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is clearly a criminal act. While I admittedly come to these questions from the counter perspective of a criminal defense attorney, the claim is legally absurd.
The Saturday call is now well-known, though few have actually read the full transcript. Yesterday, Raffensperger acknowledged that he made the decision to release the tape of a settlement discussion two days before the critical Georgia election. As a matter of legal practice, the taping (let alone the release) of settlement discussions is considered highly inappropriate. In some states, it would constitute a crime to engage in such nonconsensual taping. (Georgia is a one party consent state).
When the tape was released, many of us immediately criticized the statement of the President that “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.” However, experts immediately declared yet another clear criminal act and some members even called for a type of twilight impeachment in the last couple weeks of the Trump Administration. Weissmann declared immediately that the tape showed “criminal intent” as well as “proof of his motive and his pattern of similar activity.”
The problem is that Weissmann again left the criminal code and controlling case law behind in his blind pursuit of Trump. He was not alone. There is no established crime in this transcript under federal law.
As with the obstruction allegations investigated by Robert Mueller and the Ukrainian call that was the basis for the impeachment, this comes down to a question of intent. While most experts are notably vague on the specific criminal provision, one possibility would be election fraud under 52 U.S. 20511, which covering any person who “knowingly and willfully intimidated, threatens, or coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce” any person exercising the right to vote. This was not a direct intimidation of a voter but it could be claimed to be interfering with that right.
However, such an interpretation comes to a full stop at intent. This was a settlement discussion over election challenges with a variety of lawyers present, not some backroom at the Bada Bing club. The entire stated purpose of the challenges was to count what the Trump campaign alleged were uncounted votes that surpassed the 11,780 deficit. Trump repeatedly asserted that he won the election and put forward different theories of how many more votes were destroyed or not counted. He continued to return to the fact that they only need to confirm 11,780 of those hundreds of thousands of allegedly uncounted ballots.
The Georgia lawyers on the call did a good job in rebutting Trump’s theories and showing that there are not hundreds of thousands of uncounted or miscounted ballots. Yet, in any criminal case, Trump would simply argue that he was restating the point of the pending cases in a settlement negotiation: that the election was not fair and that he actually won. That is a view shared by roughly 40 percent of the public. A prosecutor would have to show that Trump clearly knew that his theories were bogus and that he did not believe there were sufficient ballots to reach that number. As a criminal defense attorney, I would view a case built on that line as not just challengeable but laughable.
Even if the prosecutors could find a basis for establishing intent, they would still be pushing fraud statutes beyond an intelligible limits without more direct evidence of intent. Ironically, this is the very issue that marred Weissmann’s career and the reason many of us viewed his selection by Mueller to be an egregious error. Weissmann was responsible for the overextension of an obstruction provision in a jury instruction that led a unanimous Supreme Court to reverse the conviction in the Arthur Andersen case in 2005. He proceeded to make the same exaggerated claims with Mueller (which were apparently rejected by the staff) and has continued to do so as a MSNBC analyst. He seems impervious to conflicting case law. Even a unanimous ruling written by Justice Elena Kagan does not appear to narrow his reading of such provisions. In Kelly v. United States, the Supreme Court threw out the convictions in the “Bridgegate” case involving the controversial closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create traffic problems for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who refused to endorse then-Gov. Chris Christie. The Court observed:
“That requirement, this Court has made clear, prevents these statutes from criminalizing all acts of dishonesty by state and local officials. Some decades ago, courts of appeals often construed the federal fraud laws to “proscribe schemes to defraud citizens of their intangible rights to honest and impartial government.” McNally, 483 U. S., at 355. This Court declined to go along. The fraud statutes, we held in McNally, were “limited in scope to the protection of property rights.” Id., at 360. They did not authorize federal prosecutors to “set standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials.” Ibid.”
Weissmann’s fraud prosecution would be based on a statement that could be easily defended as part of a settlement discussion over the findings of uncounted votes. There was no clear threat or benefit discussed. They were discussing what Trump was seeking in these challenges and his belief that fraudulent, and possible criminal, conduct marred the results. One can reject those claims (as I have) without converting the matter into a faux criminal case.
Yet, readers are not satisfied with just a condemnation of Trump. They want a prosecution. To that end, another former prosecutor, Daniel Goldman, stepped forward to offer his own assurances of a criminal case to be made against Trump. (House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff previously hired Goldman, who previously called Trump a “shameful” person who “doesn’t care about the country” and who “ ‘looks bad’ because he committed a crime.”). Goldman focused on the line “It’s gonna be costly to you.” Goldman declared “I’ve charged extortion in mob cases with similar language.” In reality, the line was “it’s going to be very costly in many ways” which is very different than “it will be costly to you.” The extortion theory is the same basic theory that was raised in the impeachment hearing. I testified at that hearing and noted that this type of unhinged interpretation has been previously rejected by the Supreme Court. The House ultimately declined to adopt any extortion article of impeachment.
I would be interested to see the cases that Goldman charged solely on this type of line. The statement in a settlement that further litigation is going to be “costly” is hardly unprecedented. Moreover, Trump can point what he said after that line: “I think you have to say that you’re going to reexamine it, and you can reexamine it, but reexamine it with people that want to find answers, not people that don’t want to find answers.” Yet, like Weissmann, Goldman wants the public to believe that this would not just be a good case for prosecution but not unlike cases that he personally prosecuted. If he did bring a case on that type of evidence, it is hard to believe it would withstand a cursory pretrial challenge.
Of course, none of this matters. That is just law. This is legal entertainment. In the echo chambers of our current news platforms, such views are rarely challenged. Viewers hear what they hoped to hear from experts who are eager to supply endless theories of criminality. Of course, the same endless flexibility in the criminal code does not extend to figures like Hunter or Joe Biden. Trump just has that criminal Midas touch.
Here Is How Hunter Biden Allegedly Traded On Family Name, Influence To Make Millions
Here Is How Hunter Biden Allegedly Traded On Family Name, Influence To Make Millions
Just days after outgoing AG William Barr said there is "no need" to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden despite revelations about a federal
Just days after outgoing AG William Barr said there is "no need" to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden despite revelations about a federal criminal investigation into Biden's business conduct, we're seeing the latest "scoop" about the younger Biden's alleged misdeeds.
In a lengthy investigative report, the WSJ has reportedly confirmed that the younger Biden traded on his purported influence and family ties during his business dealings in Ukraine and China (along with his conduct at home in his personal life, where he has seemingly careened from one disaster to the next) to enrich himself - and, importantly, his family as well.
Importantly, in the story, WSJ explicitly notes that "none of the Journal's reporting found that Joe Biden was involved in his son's activities, which mostly took place around the time Obama's second term was wrapping up." Our initial reaction: Of course it wouldn't.
But that doesn't matter so much right now: What this shows is that the federal agents leading the "criminal tax probe" into the younger Biden are looking into how influence peddling and the Biden family name played into this, which could be very, very bad for Hunter's father, and the Democrats.
But the fact that WSJ is reporting and seemingly confirming that the younger Biden benefited 'because of his last name and connections' still has significance.
Even though it shares an owner with Fox News, WSJ, with its closet full of Pulitzers, is still "respected" by the mainstream press.
Through reportedly talking with people familiar with Biden's business dealings, WSJ managed to confirm various that the younger Biden received a discounted stake in a Chinese PE firm that was at the center of the NY Post's reporting, along with consulting arrangements with a Romanian property magnate which "overall allowed him to maintain a globe-trotting lifestyle, according to interviews, documents and communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal."
It even confirmed that Biden receiving a 2.8-carat diamond from a Chinese energy tycoon that has reportedly found its way to the center of the federal investigation into the president's sons actions.
Most of the details were clearly leaked to WSJ by Senate Republicans. But the takeaway here is pretty clear: even if the information is being used for political purposes, the investigation into Biden holds water. After all, federal investigations aren't opened up for nothing.
By now, as Trump continues with his wave of pardons (he has of course pardoned far fewer people than his predecessor, even adjusted for his shorter time in the saddle), the GOP is ensuring that the investigation into Hunter Biden will be as fraught with leaks and bombshells and "scoops" as any other high profile investigation, including - most obviously - the Mueller probe.
Social media could block out the NY Post, but they couldn't block out WSJ. Though the story wasn't widely covered, now that WSJ has "moved" on it, how much longer can its rivals - even WaPo and NYT - keep this from becoming an "essential" story after inauguration day. Otherwise, they will lose what little credibility they have left, as critics challenge the press to step up and hold Biden "accountable" like they did Trump.
There also might be an element of payback at play here, as WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch seeks to get back in Trump's good graces after the president sicced his legions of loyal followers on Fox News, threatening its fat profit margins.
Either way, one thing is clear: Leaks like this aren't going to stop.
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